Napthine sets up gay advisory group

Posted in News

The new Napthine government has created its first gay and lesbian advisory group in a bid to tackle issues such as HIV infections, homophobia and mental health.

Two years after Ted Baillieu went to the state election promising a ministerial committee for Melbourne's gay community, the Coalition has finally delivered on the pledge – despite some earlier concerns within its own ranks.

Twenty-three Victorians – including mental health experts, one journalist, and several activists – have been appointed by the government, and will report to Health Minister David Davis and Mental Health Minister Mary Wooldridge.

Mr Davis said the group would advise the government on a range of issues, including support for the ageing; improvements to health services; suicide prevention; and "rapid testing" for HIV.

The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Ministerial Advisory Committee – or the GLBTI-MAC as it is known – will be chaired by Michael Kennedy, who was executive director of the Victorian AIDS Council between 1999 and 2011.

Other members include Burnet Institute researcher Mark Stoove; former Uniting Care Cutting Edge chief executive Rowena Allen; Joy FM journalist Doug Pollard; mental health activist Rob Mitchell; and Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria director Liam Leonard.

But while gay lobby groups have welcomed the move, not everyone in the government agrees it is necessary, with one MP previously telling Fairfax Media: "I don't see what used to be known as 'poofter bashing' happening and I don't see overt discrimination. It's unnecessary. You don't need a committee for everything."

However, Anna Brown, convenor of the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby said the announcement was welcome, if not long overdue, although she questioned whether it would go far enough.

"Clearly, tackling homophobia must fall within the remit of the MAC but a question remains over how the Government will deal with other important issues such as expunging gay sex convictions, inequality in adoption laws and stronger legal responses to homophobic harassment and prejudice-motivated crime," she said.

The former Labor government had two GLBTI advisory committees – one dealt with health issues; the other dealt with justice matters.

Opposition parliamentary spokesman for mental health Wade Noonan questioned why there had been such a delay.

"I think the GLBTI community would be scratching their heads wondering why it's taken this Government such an inordinate period of time to bring together this important committee," he said.

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